Most courses I run have at least 1 or 2 people attending because they have a wedding speech looming.
I also have clients who are still haunted by a ‘disastrous’ wedding speech in the past. For example, someone recently told me that he was nervous the whole day before his wedding because he was dreading his speech. Often such an experience is the impetus for them to register for a course.
It is a shame that the joy of such an occasion can be overshadowed by having to do a speech! But it doesn't have to be that way.
This article is less about the mechanics of writing a special occasion speech and more about how to ensure that the speech doesn’t ruin your experience of the occasion.
Skilled speakers exude confidence, right?
Not necessarily. Many reasonably good speakers suffer from intense self-doubt, which ruins the experience of speaking for them and holds them back from becoming great speakers.
If you are an anxious speaker, you have probably decided you are rubbish at it – but, as this article explains, you may well be underrating your abilities.
I run courses for people with public speaking anxiety. In the pre-course questionnaire, 80% of participants say that they avoid public speaking if they possibly can. They turn down opportunities, get 'sick' on the day, ask others to step in for them, and even turn down jobs.
I am not suggesting that 80% of all people are actively avoiding public speaking. But I bet many of us have wriggled out of doing a presentation at some stage in our lives – I know I have!
Here are a couple of the more heart-breaking comments I have had from clients.
So, you have finally decided to do something about your public speaking anxiety and signed up for a course. Congratulations – you have taken a great first step!
As a public speaking coach, I see so many people get amazing results – but not everyone gets what they need. Here are some tips that will maximise your chances of success.
I have been coaching young people and adults in public speaking for seven years – initially in a school as a volunteer – and now with adults as a paid coach. When I started, I experienced imposter syndrome. I was a good public speaker and had many coaching ideas. But how did I know I would be any good at it? My first paid course was stressful. What if I didn't get results? If people knew that it was my first paid gig, would they feel like I was experimenting on them?
I am sure there were some clunky bits at first. Although the core of my content has not changed, I am consistently tweaking how I present it. But the first course was a success. And I learn something from each course that has improved my coaching.
Four years after launching a website aimed at people with public speaking anxiety (and wondering whether anyone would sign up for my first course!) I am taking the opportunity to reflect on some things I have learned as a coach.
If you are considering taking a course, this article will give you some ideas on how to maximise your chances of success. If you are a coach, you may find some tips you can apply to your coaching.
Public speaking is a performance, but it is not the same as acting. There are two main differences. The first is fairly obvious – as an actor, you are being someone else, but as a public speaker, ideally you are being yourself. Many people struggle with being themselves in front of an audience. How often do you hear people go into 'presentation mode'? They take on a professional persona that is an unconscious form of acting.
The second difference is about your relationship with the audience. An actor pretends that the audience is not there. But as a public speaker, you are there to engage directly with the audience – you acknowledge your listeners. To the audience, you are the whole point – and vice versa. Otherwise, you may as well just hand out notes!
Yoodli is an exciting new AI public speaking tool that I am using in my coaching.
A lot of my work is with people who have extreme public speaking anxiety that holds them back from achieving their career and life goals.
In my experience, there are three things that people need to overcome a crippling fear of public speaking:
Yoodli won’t replace the coach but it is a great tool to enable safe practice and support skill development.
Recently someone approach me for private coaching. She was nervous about an upcoming presentation. Before she ran through her presentation, she told me that her topic was important to her audience and she really wanted to have impact. Then she practiced her presentation by sharing her screen as she read, or sometimes paraphrased, a series of PowerPoint slides.
She came across as professional, knowledgeable and confident. Had she not mentioned her desire to have impact, I would have been quite encouraging in my feedback. I would have suggested fewer words on the slides and starting and finishing without slides so that she was more visible to the audience. But I would have reassured her that presentation was as good as many work presentations I see.
However, I knew that she would not achieve her goal of having impact. I could barely see her on my screen and I had read all the words on the slides before she spoke to them. I gave her positive feedback but I also told her that her presentation was not memorable. I also pointed out that she was adding very little value and she could just as easily have paused and let the audience read her slides for themselves!
“Overcome”, “conquer”, “kill”, “get over”, and “cure the fear of public speaking” are all terms that people google. I know – I have done the keyword research!
If you are anxious about public speaking, you probably see your anxiety as a big problem. You worry that others will notice your nerves, that your mind will go blank, and that your audience will judge you harshly.
All this is understandable. But this article explains why seeking to fight, eliminate or fix the fear is unrealistic and counterproductive. It suggests other strategies, such as shifting your focus and adjusting your self-talk.
Remember learning to ride a bike? You probably started with training wheels. What happened when your parents removed the training wheels? Perhaps you went, wobble, wobble, wobble, splat. The next time the wobble lasted a little longer before the splat, and then maybe by the third or fourth time, you went wobble, wobble and then took off. You were away!
Would you have ever learned to ride a bike if you had kept the training wheels? Unlikely. Training wheels don’t teach you to balance; they just give you a feel for sitting on a bike.
Relying heavily on notes when you are learning to speak publicly is a bit like using training wheels on a bike. You will never be able to deliver a speech without notes if you always read your notes. Unlike training wheels, you may not need to ditch your notes altogether. But you will need to stop reading them!
I get huge satisfaction from seeing the relief, pride, and even joy that people experience when they complete a course and reflect on the progress they have made. See what others say for some inspiring stories.